Innovative Technologies for Autism: Critical Reflections on Digital Bubbles

Project: Research council

Project Details


Autism is a lifelong condition that affects how people interact and communicate with others, and how people sense and think about the world. It is a spectrum, including people with severe learning difficulties and those with very high levels of intelligence. Diagnosis of ASC has increased, with UK estimates of at least 1 in 100 people. ASC can have negative effects on social development, relationships, access to social support, life skills, employment and independent living. However, technology is often seen as having a special attraction for people with ASC, and many technological supports (e.g. virtual reality games, apps, social robots, objects with embedded technology) have been developed to support people with ASC. Technology use in typically-developing people has been subject to dire warnings in the press about the ways it is cutting people off from social contact, into 'digital bubbles'. The same anxieties have been expressed about the use of technology in autism: will it increase social isolation, or does it provide a way of engaging with other people in a remote way? Unfortunately, research evidence is not integrated within or between disciplines and rarely presented to stakeholders for discussion. Scientific research on this topic comes from a wide range of disciplines, including education, psychology, computer science, human-computer interaction and engineering, but these disciplines also tend to exist in their own separate bubbles. This seminar series aims to bring together different disciplines to review and critically evaluate ways that technology might support or impair the wellbeing of people with ASC, and to bring aspects of the debate to stakeholders beyond the academy, including people with ASC, families and carers, professionals and practitioners. For example, what does the current evidence tell us, how does it help us to ask more subtle questions, e.g. about the differences of remote vs. live interaction with other people, are researchers making unjustified assumptions about technology use in autism, what can the different disciplines learn from each other and how can the debate be better informed by the views of stakeholders directly involved? This series of 7 seminars will bring together academics from different disciplines and end users to address 6 core areas within the 'autism and technology' agenda: (1) Social: setting out the possible benefits and concerns in technology use in autism (2) Developmental: looking across all stages of life from infancy to old age to learn from different approaches and assumptions (3) Methods: looking at how the question is studied (e.g. controlled experiments, analysing videos of interaction, methods of evaluating what works) (4) Technologies: looking at how questions might be very different depending on the sort of technology used, and how it is used, e.g. virtual vs real-world, individual or shared, to replace or add to other approaches (5) Disciplines: how different academic approaches can contribute and challenge each other (6) Diversity: what might be learnt by looking at the use of technology to support a whole range of groups, e.g. the elderly, dementia sufferers, those with limited communication, and more broadly looking across cultures and the general population, to challenge assumptions about technology use; well designed and informed development of technology may extend benefits to all. Finally (7) we bring together all the ideas and highlight areas for future collaboration and research.
Effective start/end date3/11/142/12/16


  • Economic and Social Research Council


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